The case against LGE

[Note: an earlier version of this article contained incorrect information concerning the amount collected Thus far for the recently launched LGE solidarity fund. The amount quoted earlier was from a similar appeal made in 2016. The mistake is deeply regretted.  Sincere apologies to all concerned.]

The arrest of Lim Guan Eng (LGE) last week on charges of corruption sent shock waves across the country for many reasons.

First, there was the case itself – a single charge of “soliciting” a 10% bribe from Consortium Zenith Construction director Zarul Ahmad Mohd Zulkifli in connection with the undersea tunnel project; it apparently took place in March 2011, more than nine years and three administrations ago.

Last year, Zarul himself called the allegations (made by UK-based gadfly Raja Petra Kamarudin) “pure fiction.”  Zarul noted that the MACC had conducted an extensive investigation into the project, remanding him for 11 days in the process, and found nothing. “Besides me, my entire company was called for questioning, spending a total of 40 days in and out of the MACC office, cooperating with every single aspect that was being investigated,” he added. According to press reports, the MACC subsequently cleared Zeneith of any wrongdoing. Now, after a change of government, it is a different story.

In the end it appears to be one man’s word against another; can it even stand up in court?

For Malaysians accustomed to more detailed and serious charges like those filed under the Pakatan Harapan government, the case against LGE seems weak at best. Former deputy prime minister Zahid Hamidi, for example, faces 12 charges of criminal breach of trust, 27 charges of money laundering and 8 charges of bribery. Separately, he is facing a further 40 charges on another bribery case. Najib Tun Razak, who was recently found guilty on all seven charges of abuse of power, corruption and money laundering in connection with the SRC case, is facing another 21 charges connected with the 1MDB scandal.

If, after months of investigating LGE, the best that the MACC can come up with is a charge of solicitation, it is bound to raise eyebrows. Further charges are apparently pending; let’s see if they have anything more convincing and credible against the DAP leader.

In the meantime, the dubiety of it all was captured in a spoof by the Tapir Times, which bills itself as “a silly work of satire and fiction… not to be taken seriously by anyone.” It reported, in jest, that veteran politicians (some of whom are facing criminal charges) were taken aback that LGE didn’t follow “standard Malaysian money laundering procedures.” “When you want a bribe,” the Tapir Times article spoofed, “you don’t ask the winner of an open tender over a cappuccino, you set up a charity, solicit political donations, or send one of your son’s playboy school friends to ‘broker the deal,’ which you can later tell the court, ‘was without your knowledge.’”

As expected, UMNO politicians are urging the people not to question the judicial system. It is not the independence of the judiciary that is under the microscope here but the actions of the government. Our judiciary has won the respect of all Malaysians; the same cannot be said of the PN administration. Without credibility, anything it does will be viewed with suspicion.

Opposition leaders, for their part, have slammed the actions of the MACC. Former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said he was inclined to think that the charges against Lim were politically motivated.  PKR president Anwar Ibrahim said it seemed to him that the Perikatan Nasional administration was trying to put the opposition under political pressure through what he called “selective prosecution.” Klang MP Charles Santiago said, “It reeks of a witch hunt.”

Suspicion about political motives is, of course, not hard to fathom given the intense political jockeying for power that has quite literally consumed the nation since the infamous ‘Sheraton Move’ last February. The charges against LGE also come right on the heels of former Sabah chief minister Musa Aman’s manoeuvre to bring down the Warisan administration led by Shafie Apdal. Warisan is, of course, allied to Mahathir while Musa Aman is allied to Muhyiddin and UMNO. Conveniently, several corruption charges against Musa were suddenly withdrawn just before he made his comeback bid.

The prosecution of LGE and the turmoil in Sabah will, no doubt, put the opposition on the defensive and buy Muhyiddin further time to consolidate his position. One thing that the PN leaders may not have fully considered, however, is how the country’s long-suffering citizens will react to these developments.

Over the last several months, support for the DAP has been waning; its disappointing performance in government turned off many voters. If voters now perceive that LGE is being targeted for political reasons, support for the DAP (and other opposition parties) will surge to new heights. Both MCA and Gerakan will also be severely punished for participating in this charade; they can certainly kiss goodbye to any hope of recovering from the drubbing they got in GE14.

For decades, the DAP has had to endure a relentless campaign of vilification and demonization at the hands of Malay supremacists. They have been tarred with every conceivable label – Christian evangelists, Zionist collaborators, communists, LTTE militants, anti-Islam, anti-Malay, anti-monarchy, anti-Malaysia and anti-national – and all based on nothing more than falsehoods and fabrications. DAP leaders have sued their detractors in court on several occasions and have almost always won their cases. The damage to their reputation, however, has been devastating. Many will see this latest act against the DAP as yet another attempt to discredit them.

The fact is Malay supremacists cannot abide the DAP because the party refuses to accept poodle status like some other BN component parties. Along with PKR, the DAP wants to see a more inclusive nation, one that is premised on good governance, transparency and respect for the constitution. That is what the majority of Malaysians voted for in the last election.

The DAP is far from perfect, of course. I, for one, have been critical of some of their policies. The whole Penang transport masterplan is, in my view, ill-conceived and should be reassessed. At the end of the day, however, it is the voters of Penang who must pass judgement on the DAP’s stewardship of the state; harassing them with what appears to be “politically motivated” charges is simply unacceptable.

PN leaders might be taking quiet satisfaction from the fact that charges have finally been brought against LGE but they may be awakening the proverbial dragon in the process. People are angry and will look for ways to express their angst. The DAP has launched a solidarity fund to raise money for LGE’s bail; it will be one way of showing the government what they think of the charges against him.

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 10th August 2020]